Turkish court rules alcohol ban during Covid-19 lockdown 'unconstitutional'

In the first ruling over the ban of alcohol sales during the Covid-19 lockdown in Turkey last spring, a court in the western province of Çanakkale has ruled that fines on alcohol shops that remained open were “unconstitutional.”

Duvar English 

During the full lockdown implemented in Turkey last spring, the Interior Ministry banned the sale of alcohol, but not explaining how such a move would help with curbing the spread of the coronavirus. Now, in the first legal ruling on the ban, the Çanakkale Criminal Court of Peace has deemed that the ban was “unconstitutional,” daily Hürriyet reported on Sept. 17. 

The sale of alcohol was banned from April 29 to May 17 in Turkey, during a full lockdown implemented nationwide. This decision was handed down by the Interior Ministry and was described at the time as an “openly unconstitutional act.” The ban was primarily enforced by the police.

Alcohol in Turkey is often sold in “monopoly” (Tekel) shops and as a result of the ban, many of these shops were forced to close. One such shop was the Tekel run by Deniz Öztürk in Çanakkale. Öztürk filed a lawsuit appealing the alcohol ban on May 1, two days after the ban went into effect. In her appeal, she argued that there was no scientific evidence linking the consumption of alcohol to the spread of Covid-19.

Öztürk complied with the ban and closed her shop. On May 6, she went into the shop to retrieve her computer. Police saw lights on in the store and fined Öztürk 900 Turkish lira for breaking the Law on Public Health. Öztürk immediately appealed the fine in the Çanakkale Criminal Court of Peace, but the local security directorate, in its defense, replied by saying they were only acting in accordance with the law.

On Sept. 7, the Çanakkale court accepted Öztürk’s appeal of the fine. In the decision, the judge stated that the “prohibitions or obligations mentioned in the law” did not apply to “this incident, which was the basis of the administrative fine.”

The judge went further and stated in the decision that some of the measures taken in the name of public health during the Covid-19 pandemic deprived Turkish citizens of their rights.

“The measures taken to combat the Covid-19 epidemic limited the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey,” the judge wrote.

The decision also pointed out that measures that limit citizens’ rights and freedoms can only be made by law, during a state of emergency. The alcohol ban, carried out by the Interior Ministry during peacetime, was therefore unconstitutional.

This decision could have wide-ranging implications for an administration that has used the Covid-19 pandemic to curb individual freedoms, such as by banning bars and venues that play music from staying open past midnight.